19 May 2016

Thoughts re refugees

A poignant excerpt from the transcript of "Streetwise" - the second act in episode 572 ("Transformers") at This American Life:
Ira Glass:  "Monday of this week, she rode a bus as the next of those many steps that she has to do to become an American. She's from Afghanistan, but she lives in Detroit now. There are currently a record number of people-- 60 million, according to the United Nations-- displaced by violence and persecution, and needed to start all over elsewhere, change their lives, transform themselves. M is one of them. She's right now living in a temporary home for asylum seekers called Freedom House. And at Freedom House, they've taught her how to put together an American-style resume, how to go to the doctor in America. Today's lesson is how to get around the city independently...

M-- maybe you can tell-- is this super-capable person who seems to have no problem in any situation I see her in finding out what she needs to know and making things happen. In other words, figuring out how to ride a bus is child's play to her. She's a college grad with a bachelor's in business administration. Back home in Kabul, did project management for an international organization, humanitarian projects.

M:  "I was responsible, for example, to make need assessments, and then to check every stage of that project with the implementing partner."

Ira Glass: "It's not unusual, of course, for this immigrant who's used to a job in her own country managing things and doing PowerPoint presentations and looking at Excel spreadsheets is hoping here in America that she'll get work as a seamstress, if she's lucky. She got her papers to work legally a month ago. And looking for work so far has landed nothing." 
Readers of this blog are sufficiently sophisticated and well-read that they will not reflexly equate "immigrant" with "fruit-picker" or "roofer," or assume that a refugee must be ignorant and unskilled.  But many Americans do exactly that.


  1. I worked for several years with a man who had a business degree from a school in Bogata. Very smart guy. He was packing boxes and sticking shipping labels on them.

  2. And many Americans equate "immigrant" with "competition". Having a Brazilian PhD candidate as a significant other, I respect the difficulty that these men and women go through in order to find a better life. But I also acknowledge the effect that these immigrants have, as a whole, on wages and job opportunities for struggling Americans. There is a place for immigrants in the US, but we can't turn a blind eye to the greater impact that these new citizens will have on those living here. Empathize a little more before you pass judgement on who is and is not "sufficiently sophisticated".

    1. "Empathize a little more before you pass judgement on who is and is not "sufficiently sophisticated"."

      In what way did I lack empathy? I postulated that most readers of this blog will be sufficiently sophisticated to recognize that immigrants are not necessarily illiterate or incompetent.

    2. If you have an immigrant as a significant other, you know that to obtain a visa, the employer of the immigrant has to show to the US government that it can not hire a American to do the job. Even for a simple academic visa, this takes tens of pages of proof. To get my green card, I submitted 800 pages of proof. And they they asked for 200 more. This process is no joke.

      I am sick and tired hearing lie about immigrants stealing jobs. If immigrants did not come to the US, you would not have any fresh food on your table. Most of that is picked by immigrant labor. USCIS puts no limit on agricultural visa. Because there are no Americans willing to do that work.

      If immigrants did not come to the US, you would not have an iPhone in your pocket, Windows on your computer or a new cure against cardiovascular disease. A massive part of American's technological advancement is being done by immigrant students and scientists.

      Look at the school where your significant other is getting his PhD. Walk around. Go to the STEM departments. If you just remove the immigrant Chinese and Indian students and faculty in the STEM departments, that school would easily loose a third to half of its work force in those departments.

      Look at the list of Nobel prize winners in the US. Count how many of those are immigrants. You think you can do without them? You think they can't get a job at home?

      Where are the Americans to pick up that work? They don't exist. They did not get a proper education. They are being taught that the Northern War of aggression was fought to steal profits from the South in Texas. They are being taught that creationism has scientific merit in Oklahoma. They can barely write coming out of the Mississippi school system.

      So, ask yourself: Who is gonna program the next upgrade for the apps on your phone? Who's gonna pick the strawberries in your fridge? Where are the Americans clamoring for those jobs?

      And please... Prove me wrong. Go ahead and post the links.

  3. To add my personal story. When my job was advertised, there were 4 applications. 3 from foreigners, 1 from an American. One application was a fluke ("I talk English very goodly").

    The American had a Masters in a related field, not a PhD and no experience. The other foreign application actually had more years of experience than me and was selected. He ran to his boss, got a raise, and declined. I now get paid about the third more than I would have ever dared to ask.

    So, my East-Coast elite private academic institution could not get qualified Americans to apply for the job, and lost their leading candidate to a firm in Ireland, which - at the time - was in total economic collapse. But it did push my salary up.

    Not quite the image of foreigners beating Americans by accepting lower wages.

  4. My husband immigrated to the US to be with me. In his country, he was on the executive management track in a highly technical career (he holds US patents). He owned several pieces of property: beach houses, condos, undeveloped land... he wasn't rich, but he was doing pretty well for himself.
    It was a shock when he came here and couldn't so much as get a credit card! We expected some cross cultural difficulties, but never dreamed he'd have to start over from scratch. To his credit, he did. Although he's a US citizen with a master's degree and professional experience in both Europe & South America, his lack of US work history made finding a job surprisingly difficult, and this preconception about immigrants is probably a big part of that. It's a shame too, because he's a creative and tireless worker. He's got a great job now, but it was definitely an eye opener on how often the US wastes it's resources!
    I've seen this with military friends of mine too. They have unbelievable skill sets & can't get a job in private industry. It's insane!

  5. The ESOL classes at my college are often populated by very educated and skilled professionals. They just need to learn English. These classes are always very interesting mixes.

  6. My son-in-law's uncle is a veterinarian, and practiced in Mexico. When he came here, he was unable to pass the test for licensing in English, and became a veterinary helper. The vet got a fully-trained, experienced fellow veterinarian for the wages of a helper.

  7. Having been a migrant twice I can agree that the people in my native language classes are well educated. I'm an Australian by birth, but have spent many years living in places as diverse as Japan and Finland :-)


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